That great Saint, Doctor of the Church and Patroness of the Missions, little Saint Therese of Lisieux has given us a piece of good advice: ‘We must sow the good seed without concerning ourselves whether it will grow.’ This almost certainly applies to the missions. Here are two examples from Brazil.

In the northwest of this vast country they count the distances in ‘ship’s days’. And so, two ship’s days journey from Manaus, the great city on the middle reaches of the Amazon River, lies the parish of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Saint Gabriel of the Waterfalls. The diocese itself is about the size of Italy. The waterfalls and rapids here make the journey an adventure even for the river ships, while many villages can only be reached by aircraft, or in light boats that can also be carried overland.

It was here that Father Peter Shekleton journeyed on mission, accompanied by young Catholics. At the time he was working in the slums of São Paulo. But when he heard that many of the villages in this ‘diocese of the waterfalls’ had not seen a priest for over 10 years and that many old people were waiting, longing to be able to ‘die in peace’, he asked to be transferred to the parish of the Immaculate Conception. Now he is sowing the Gospel seed here and there is little prospect that the secular world will ever come to hear of it.

But the seed of love always germinates – as indeed it did in his own case. After hearing Father Werenfried speak in London, he decided to become a priest. Now he travels across land and water, visiting the innumerable small communities on the river banks. Like all the other priests in this extremely poor diocese, he receives no salary and depends entirely on Mass intentions. ACN helped him to purchase his boat, and also paid for 30 young people from his parish to attend Rio for World Youth Day.

A few hundred kilometres to the southwest lies the parish of Santo Antonio de Lisboa, at the confluence of the Rio Ica and the Rio Solimões. Here Franciscan priest, Frei Gino Alberati, together with two other Capuchin missionaries and two of the order’s novices, ministers to the parishes of the town of Santo Antonio as well as supporting a group of Alcoholics Anonymous and laying the foundations of a Fazenda – or Farm of Hope – for drug addicts.

The Capuchin Fathers also make radio programmes, and Frei Gino additionally ministers to around three dozen riverside communities on the banks of the two rivers. He is involved in the pastoral care of the sick and prisoners, the catechetical instruction of children and young people, and also teaching and running a choir.

On the river his boat chugs slowly along, in order to save fuel. Only in an emergency does he open up the throttle – as he did one time to save the life of a child that had been bitten by a snake, and another time for a girl with a ruptured appendix. Both were saved, thanks to the mission boat. Now Frei Gino needs new solar panels to supply the electricity for the boat – and a little help for his ‘diesel budget’ would also be welcome…

Frei Gino and Father Shekelton work on the river in the true spirit of little Therese, who said, ‘Jesus does not look so much at how big or difficult our deeds are, but rather at the love with which they are done’ – and regardless of where in the world they are done, too.

This article can be found in Mirror 0114.